rose to call attention to the contribution made to national defence by Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces since the founding of the Territorial Army in 1908, and the future role of these forces, including their role of encouraging local participation; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the United Kingdom Council of the Reserved Forces and Cadets Association. In that role, I succeeded the late Viscount Younger of Leckie—many of your Lordships will remember his distinguished service, not only in the Korean War but also as Secretary of State for Defence. It was an honour to be asked to succeed him in my present role, which I have had for almost 10 years.
In the interests of brevity, I intend to confine my remarks primarily to the Territorial Army. I pay tribute, as all your Lordships do, to the Reserve Forces of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force. Other speakers in this debate will, I know, speak up for those approximately 4,300 reserves with greater authority than I can. However, my concentration on the Territorial Army is in no way an indication of my lack of interest in all those who serve in Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces.
The Territorial Army, as it soon became known, was founded by Richard Haldane, then the Secretary of State for War, and became effective on 1 April 1908. We are therefore celebrating the centenary of the Territorial Army. Some of your Lordships and I attended a national service in St Paul’s on 15 May, which proved a fitting reminder of the enormous contribution of the Territorial Army and, indeed, of all our Reserve Forces since the First World War. The London Scottish Regiment was the first TA unit deployed in Flanders at the beginning of the First World War, and was the first into action at the First Battle of Ypres on 31 October 1914. The territorials have served in almost all conflicts since the First World War and have served or are still serving in Aden, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is important to note at the outset that the conditions in which the Territorial Army served during the Cold War, when in essence the force was going to provide a line of resistance to any advance of Soviet troops in central Europe, have changed dramatically. Today, the soldiers of the Territorial Army stand shoulder to shoulder with the Regular Army and are fully integrated into the order of battle. Since 2003, some 15,000 have deployed on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. That is equivalent to some 20 battalions—a significant contribution. They share the same dangers. Some reservists have made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation, and our thoughts today are surely with the families of all those who have lost their lives.
I shall say a few words about the Territorial Army to set the framework of part of our deliberations today. There are approximately 30,000 volunteer officers and soldiers in the Territorial Army—a significant reduction on the number 15 or 20 years ago, but still a significant proportion of all those in the chain of command, including the Regular Army. Against a perhaps broad definition of training, about three-quarters of that number are trained and ready for combat.
The Territorial Army contributes quite a high proportion of the Army’s specialists, such as engineers, doctors, nurses and logisticians. That specialist contribution, which includes intelligence, makes a proportionately bigger contribution to the Regular Army than do the infantry, the artillery and other units. The total cost to the Budget of Her Majesty’s Government is about £400 million per annum. To put that into context, that is about 1.2 per cent of the total defence budget. The Territorial Army and the reserves in general make a cost-effective, and now highly militarily effective, contribution to national defence. Indeed, if we compare the cost of a regular soldier who is back in this country training prior to deployment with the cost of a reservist performing the same role, the reservist costs about one-fifth of the cost of a regular soldier. On average, in the past five years, the reservists have contributed about one-10th of the total number of deployed Armed Forces.
The territorials’ role today, as I mentioned earlier, has changed dramatically since the Cold War. Their prime purpose today—I think your Lordships will welcome this—is to augment the Regular Army on deployment. In particular, they provide a specialist capacity—I have already given examples of specialist TA units—and, for the past few years, they have provided a civil contingency reaction capability. In the event of a serious terrorist action or some natural disaster of great proportions, the Territorial Army—indeed all the reservists—could be drawn into assisting the civil community. That role has already been performed and could be of growing importance in the years to come. No one can argue that the Territorial Army today is not recognised as an essential and integral part of the Regular Army. Indeed, the Regular Army cannot now deploy on operations without the vital support of the Territorial Army and the reservists. That is a significant change over the past 10 to 20 years.
I shall say a few words about the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, of which I am president. Other than the 30,000, whom I mentioned, in the Territorial Army, there are some 8,000 volunteer members of the association around the country, who support the work of the territorial soldiers themselves. They are organised into 13 regional associations throughout the United Kingdom. Their forerunners were established by Haldane because he realised the necessity not only of support for the volunteers when they serve but in particular of connections with the local community so that the spirit of volunteering, which was so important in the First and Second World Wars, is kept alive. Indeed, each of the regional associations has as its president one of the local lord-lieutenants, and I am glad that one of them is likely to speak in this debate. Their role and function in connection with the local community is much appreciated and vital.
There are two key functions of the Reserve Forces associations, quite apart from their role with cadets. We should not forget that there are 140,000 cadets in uniform in this country. It is the largest youth organisation, and the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association helps to maintain and support it. The first of two key functions in relation to this debate, however, is local employer support through SaBRE—Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur, chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board, will speak to this important aspect of the work of the associations and of the NEAB itself.
The second key function is maintenance of the property of over 411 Territorial Army centres around the country, leaving aside the facilities used by the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force and, indeed, the cadet organisations. I thank the chairman of the national council, Brigadier Michael Browne, and the chief executive, Air Vice-Marshal Paul Luker, for the hard work that they and all their colleagues do.
A key feature of the role of the United Kingdom Reserve Forces Association is the local connections of the TA and the community. In September 2007, General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, spoke of the,
“growing gulf between the Army and the nation”.
He was right then and is right now. The TA, at least, together with the Reserve Forces associations, keeps that valuable link alive through all the TA centres of the Army—whether regular or volunteer—and the local community. Long may that continue. It is important, with Regular Armed Forces very much smaller than even 20 years ago, that the nation maintains, understands, and engenders local loyalty to the work of our forces.
The Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Desmond Browne, announced the launch of a review of the Reserve Forces a few months ago. We are told that the review should help the ministry to ensure that the Reserve Forces will meet the needs of the future by generating relevant military capability. The role of the territorials in augmenting the Regular Army is not at issue or subject to review. It is not about cost-cutting; I believe that, and trust that your Lordships will do so. We are assured by the most senior of both the uniformed and political levels of the Ministry of Defence that that is so.
Clearly, however, the National Audit Office report of 2006 will be relevant. The NAO said that the reserves should be managed better to deliver an effective and efficient service. I welcome the review, which should receive full co-operation from all those affected or interested. We should take a positive and constructive approach. The key issue should be how we get officers and soldiers to volunteer in the first place, and then keep them content and motivated to stay in the reserves to reduce the rate of loss caused by those leaving prematurely.
It is not a career choice for those who volunteer, but an optional use of their spare time with the prospect of mobilisation, voluntary or compulsory, for a specific 12-month period. I briefly mention four issues that I hope that the review takes into account. First, reservists deserve proper resources to be spent on training. You cannot skimp on the number of training days or you will not have an efficient solider; indeed, the civil contingency role might need special training. We must therefore watch the amount of resources available for that.
Secondly, we want the Territorial Army to be deployed, as far as possible, as units. If you train together, you should go to war together as far as is possible. I welcome the Government’s announcement of the deployment to Cyprus of 250 reservists in October as part of the United Nations force, which will be helpful, particularly to younger officers who I hope will be with that contingent. The younger officer is often not sent on deployment, which is demotivating because what the Army often needs in deployment is the infantry soldier—boots on the ground.
Thirdly, we must make more imaginative use of our specialists, with the rebuilding of war-torn communities by those who, in civilian life, might be engineers, lawyers, town planners or linguists. They should be employed in uniform to assist in the aftermath of the ravages of war. Finally, on welfare, we do a much better job of looking after our regular soldiers coming back from war. Frankly, we must do more for our volunteers. They cannot just go straight back to their families and into the community. They need the same care for physical or mental hardship.
I know I speak on behalf of all noble Lords in thanking all our reservists and their families for the sacrifices made and a job well done. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for giving us this opportunity to congratulate the Reserve Forces. Like him, I will largely concentrate on the Territorial Army. The debate gives us an opportunity—particularly after 100 years, with TA 100 having been launched in April—to celebrate the great debt that we owe to all those brave people who volunteer in this way.
It was interesting that the noble Lord referred to the TA being formed in 1908. Of course, it was originally a defence force. The First World War changed that, when, after a period, volunteers were posted into regular units and played an important role. Disbanded after the First World War, it was reformed in 1939 when the aim was to get 400,000 volunteers. Interestingly, the history of the Bolton Wanderers, the team which my noble friend who is to reply to this debate and I support, records that all of the first team volunteered as territorials in 1939. All of them were called up and lost to Bolton for six years. The pre-war captain, Harry Goslin, became a lieutenant and lost his life. Others, like Ray Westwood and Ted Geldard, returned to play for the team. That has continued. As chairman of Warrington Wolves, we have one or two young players who volunteer and go on training courses; two of them have recently been with the marines. The sporting links continue.
The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, was quite right to say that we owe these people a great deal. They are civilians who face being mobilised and called up. They have always been prepared. While there is some protection for them when they are mobilised, there is nothing to protect them suffering in terms of their professions because of what they see as their duty to the nation, which is sometimes a problem for them. It is not easy. They are prepared to give up their time; it is a commitment, as has been said. They are asked to give up at least 27 days a year, with a fortnight in training camp; specialists spend about 19 days.
It would be remiss of me not to talk about the medical squadron based at the barracks in Chorley, where I live: the C(64) squadron. It was first deployed in Afghanistan in October 2007 and again in January this year. Although there were only about nine reservists in total, that comprised 14 per cent of the squadron that was deployed. Fortunately all of them returned. Some of them were at the bases but others were at the out-station. One or two were congratulated on the service they gave.
I have outlined this to follow what has been said about the support these specialist units give to our Armed Forces. I am pleased to say that, since it became a squadron, both the numbers and the attendances have increased. I am also pleased that Chorley Borough Council has awarded it the freedom of the town. That is something it fully deserves and, although the regiment it is attached to is based in Preston and is shortly to go to Catterick, nevertheless it will remain in Chorley.
It is therefore very important that we consider, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, said, the new review that is taking place—I am sure my noble friend the Minister will be referring to that—which seeks more integration of Reserve and Regular Forces. It is very important that that review takes place and I know that it has been welcomed by the Armed Forces themselves. I think it is due to report by autumn of this year and I hope that it will point the way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, also pointed out how important it is that when reservists return we accord them the same kind of treatment as we give to our Regular Forces. They have to go back to their wives and families. They have to be re-engaged in the civilian employment from which they came. It is a big step because at one time when you joined the Territorial Army you never thought that you were going to be mobilised, but, as has been said, the Regular Forces could not manage without them and they could not perform the duties we expect of them.
I am always amazed because, while many of us may have our own views on the war in Iraq or Afghanistan—and we are entitled to them—wherever these people are called to serve they do not question at all. They are quite prepared to go. They are quite prepared to risk life or limb on behalf of all of us and to serve alongside the Regular Forces. I know how they are valued by the Regular Forces themselves for the work they do. I think it is fitting that we do have this kind of debate in the centenary of their existence because, as has been said, they have come such a long way from those early beginnings to be part and parcel of our Armed Forces that we could not manage without them.
I do not intend to take much more time as I know many noble Lords want to speak but it would be wrong of me to sit down without once more paying tribute to the bravery, the courage, the devotion and the dedication of the Reserve Forces and to the fact that they are prepared to surrender their job, to mobilise and to take up their duties on the front line. All of us should say a big thank you.
My Lords, I rise with some hesitation in this debate, having no direct contact with our Reserve Forces. I was just reflecting, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, was speaking, that my father served in a Territorial Army battalion some 90 years ago; namely, the 4th Battalion the Gordon Highlanders. He was briefly seconded as a sergeant to the London Scottish at one rather desperate point in the spring of 1918 but that is in the distant past.
What we have seen, particularly since the end of the Cold War, has been a transformation in the role of our reserves and a continuing reduction in both the numbers and the facilities. We have seen sites sold off so that further expansion can take place. If we wished to reverse the decline, it would be difficult. We have seen a parallel run-down since the end of the Cold War in civil defence reserves, resources and facilities.
I want to talk particularly on the role of the Reserve Forces in encouraging local participation and on their civil contingencies capability and in the links they provide between our full-time Armed Forces and the wider national community. We are all conscious—post-9/11 and post-7/7—that homeland security is an issue which has not entirely gone away. After the recent problems with foot and mouth and after a number of extreme weather incidents—the storms that have led to two hurricanes in the past 15 years and also the extensive flooding—we are all conscious that we require an effective civil contingencies capability across the country. It also helps if it is locally and regionally based. What we have found in recent civil emergencies is that we depend more and more on central control and assistance and that there is less and less room for local volunteering.
In other aspects of this government agenda there are a range of parallel issues being debated such as the citizenship agenda. How do you get people to feel that they are part of our national community, particularly people whose parents were born outside Britain? There is the whole question of how we provide broader national support and recognition for our Armed Forces, about which the Prime Minister has been speaking. One of his arguments for expanding the role of Army cadet forces in schools would be to provide a greater recognition of the links between the Armed Forces and the wider local and national community. There is also the new Labour dimension of empowerment and citizen engagement which some of us on these Benches feel has focused too much on providing citizenship choice and not enough on providing citizenship participation.
The local and regional dimension of Reserve Forces used to be extremely important. They were aspects of local pride, they were clearly rooted in local communities and they provided—certainly for the counties outside the home counties—a sense of local engagement, local participation and local autonomy. We have lost a good deal of that as the Reserve Forces have declined. We have also lost the parallel civilian community service with the run-down of civil defence.
If one is going to go down the route of citizenship agenda, there are large questions about what Army cadets and others should feed into when they leave school and how we provide greater opportunities for service in the local and regional communities. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, said in his opening speech that the civil contingencies role may well require special training. I ask the Government to consider whether we need a rather fuller inquiry into what sorts of civil contingency capabilities we need in our towns and cities outside London to deal with the sort of problems we had, for example, with the floods last summer.
We recognise furthermore that the question of filling the gaps in the services has other dimensions. At a time of falling recruitment and of adverse demographic trends—the number of young men reaching 18 is declining—we have an increasing dependence by our full-time Armed Forces on recruitment from abroad. I think we are now into several thousand Fijians and a large number of people from the Caribbean and elsewhere. I question whether the settled preference of the service chiefs for 12-year or even 22-year terms of engagement is what we still want to stick to. I have spoken to a number of people involved with the Reserve Forces who told me that one of the reasons for the their churn at present was that young men join and like the excitement of serving abroad once—but after that, they have done it. They do not want to carry on in the reserves. If that is the case, and if the people going out and serving are demonstrably proving to be worthwhile soldiers, the Army ought to consider whether two-year or three-year service for a larger number of young people could be part of how one fills the gap, as well as sending a larger number of people through our armed services, thus making them less of a small elite and more something that is rooted in the community.
I note the American experience of professional armed services in which the army is used partly as a means of providing education and skills training for people who have fallen through the school system. I note the very different Nordic experience—I have had a number of students from Finland, Norway and Sweden—in which short-term training in the army then provides a basis on which people can volunteer to take part in UN peacekeeping operations abroad for up to a year. Those are both models that we ought to take into account.
There is the larger issue of what future tasks our Armed Forces are most likely to face as we slowly withdraw from Iraq and cope with what has turned into a much tougher peacemaking operation in Afghanistan than we had expected. Conflict prevention, peacemaking and post-conflict reconstruction are all tasks that we expect our Armed Forces to be engaged in for the foreseeable future. The UNFICYP deployment of reserves to Cyprus is a good example of the sort of operation that our forces are likely to be engaged in. Civilian skills for post-conflict reconstruction are, after all, extremely helpful.
I suggest to the Government that, in looking at the future role of Reserve Forces and the capabilities we need, our current model of long-term service first and a small number of reserves may not be the one that we need, and that if we want to root our armed services much more clearly in our broader national community, as well as providing the local civilian contingencies that we are clearly going to need, we should think again.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, on securing this timely, and well attended, debate.
In a Written Statement on 24 April, the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, informed Parliament about the current roulement of troops to maintain a force level of around 4,000 in Iraq. The MOD, he said, will have issued about 290 call-out notices to fill some 220 reservist posts—that is, around 5 per cent of the numbers deploying during the period. Following preparatory training, most of those reservists will serve on operations in theatre for some six or seven months. Last week we learnt that an additional 250 reservists will deploy as part of UNFICYP to Cyprus in October. These are but two recent examples of the Government’s reliance on significant numbers of reservists to gap-fill and bring front-line units up to full fighting strength, and to man operational supporting activities.
During the 40 years of my service career, and long before that, reserves were looked upon and held as a force of last resort. Much of their ethos and training in those days focused on that doctrine, in keeping, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, has mentioned, with the Cold War and our deterrent posture against the Soviet threat. Following the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, reserves were restructured to become more deployable—a striking change for reservists, particularly in the past five years. In that time no fewer than 17,000 reservists have been deployed to fill undermanned regular units in order to undertake force protection, intelligence and logistical tasks that are essential to sustaining ongoing live expeditionary operations and to meet our UN obligations.
It is appropriate that I speak mainly about the Royal Air Force reservists. Noble Lords will recall that on 13 April SAC Thompson, a 51 year-old RAF Regiment auxiliary, was killed in Afghanistan. He was an exceptional man, and sadly is one of the latest of a considerable number of reservists from all three services who have been killed or wounded on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past five years.
The message is all too clear. Our Regular Armed Forces, and the Government, rely more and more on a continuous use of reservists for current operations. The question that arises—and the MoD is now addressing this with a comprehensive study, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, mentioned—is how to make the best use of the many young men and women who are attracted to reserve service in the Armed Forces and wish to make their contribution to the defence of this country and its interests around the world. At present, after a serious dip in 2005-06 when the recruiting effort was much reduced, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force strength is slowly increasing. It now stands at about 65 per cent of establishment but full numbers, fully trained, cannot be achieved for six years, until 2014. There could be no clearer indication that it takes a long time, even when we are involved in ongoing operations, to recover from short-term and short-sighted reductions in recruiting or effective retention efforts.
All members of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force are now fully aware of the commitments required of them. They form an integral part of the RAF’s trained manpower requirement, and they join in the expectation of being mobilised at least once during their service. The evident enthusiasm and commitment of serving Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel and their ethos spring from being part of one single formation. Retention and recruiting rely greatly on this all-of-one-body approach, and benefit from a small amount of adventure training and participation in national and local events so that there is a wider opportunity for the public to see and appreciate the professional spirit that is so essential a part of Royal Auxiliary Air Force life.
What I have found surprising, in the various Statements made in recent months about the future of the reserves and the studies now in hand, is how little is said about the reservists’ relationship with their civil employers, or indeed the effect that being mobilised for operations will have on their own businesses if they are self-employed. While some effort has been made to try to reconcile the demands of active reserve employment and that of individuals’ civilian employment, much more is likely to be required if any future restructuring is to enjoy the wholehearted support of civilian employers and the public. No doubt in her winding-up the Minister will be able to say something specific. What are the Government’s intentions towards recompensing and indeed rewarding defence-supporting employers? I look forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, on this topic.
If reserve commitments are to be as frequent and as ongoing as at present—and there seems little prospect that the use of reserves will greatly diminish in the foreseeable future—more must be done to reward the employers of these dedicated men and women. Some of these reservists, while courageous and dedicated to serving their country, will nevertheless be killed or wounded. Will employers faced with that risk be so willing to release their employee, not just once but on a regular basis, for operational service? And if, sadly, that employee is killed, not only will the immediate family grieve the loss but the employer will face problems, too. Will Her Majesty’s Government give thought to how employers might be compensated or at least helped to insure, if that is feasible, against the loss of one of their mobilised employees? I believe that an imaginative approach is called for if the studies that are now in hand are to bear fruit.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the noble and gallant Lord, whom I had the pleasure of serving with in the Ministry of Defence when he was Chief of the Defence Staff. He speaks with great authority. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Freeman on initiating this debate and I join him in paying tribute to the contribution made by Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces over so many years. I also add my admiration for him for the time that he has served succeeding my predecessor, Lord Younger of Leckie, and for the valuable role that he plays in that post.
I am particularly interested in my noble friend’s reference to the traditions of the TA and the volunteer reserves. He mentioned the London Scottish as being the first regiment involved. If he goes to the London Scottish drill hall in Horseferry Road, he will see on the walls pictures of the first contingents of the London Scottish, showing their get up and go while commandeering double-decker London buses and driving them to Belgium to stem the German advance at the beginning of the 1914 war—a wonderful illustration of the flexibility and enthusiasm of the Territorial Army at that time. It is interesting how in a debate such as this one picks up facts that perhaps one had not previously known. In the First World War the Territorial Army raised 318 battalions. It was, as the noble and gallant Lord said, the resource of last resort. My goodness, it was needed at a time of real peril in the nation and how the Territorial Army and the other Reserve Forces contributed. In 1938, at a time of increasing threat and concern for the security of the world, the number in the TA stood at 200,000. Today, at a time when nobody would suggest it was an entirely peaceful world, we have a Territorial Army and volunteer reserve of 30,000. That might be adequate if the regular forces were fully equipped, fully manned and able to cope fully with the resources that they have. But as has been made clear by a number of noble Lords, the regular forces now depend on the Reserve Forces to be able to deploy effectively and full time.
I recognise that deployment may be essential. I had the privilege to be the Secretary of State in the first Gulf War and I was faced with a totally unexpected event. When I arrived in the Ministry of Defence in 1989, I was never briefed by anybody. Within a year we were deploying tanks in the desert—something we had not done for 45 years. Indeed, in anticipation of the lack of likelihood of that event, the Ministry of Defence had sold all its desert camouflage uniforms three years previously to the Iraqi army, which showed just how far military intelligence had fallen short. I recognised then the tremendous contribution made by the volunteer reserves. Many of us saw it as a one-off, a task that had to be met, the expulsion of an aggressor from a territory that he should not have been in—that is, Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait. None of us anticipated at that time that this would become a permanent feature of deployment and that the services of the volunteer reserves would be required on such an enduring basis shortly thereafter.
I have serious concern about the situation that we now face with our volunteer reserves. They are certainly being used in a way that was never seriously contemplated and they are no longer just reserves. They are essential to the deployment of our Regular Forces. Our Armed Forces are seriously overstretched, as is recognised in the Ministry of Defence’s spring report which has just come out about the challenges faced at present and the fact that the Ministry of Defence will not meet its targets for sustainability. That is the measure of the challenges that we face. The reality is that nobody knows how long we are going to be in Iraq or in Afghanistan. This report on progress to date—which, as I said to the Minister, should have been in the House if it had arrived in time—says:
“In Basra City, 14th Division proved able to deal effectively and efficiently with isolated incidences of violence”.
I heard on the “Today” programme this morning that our troops are being deployed again in Basra city because of the need for the 14th Division of the Iraqi army to have extra support in the challenges it faces. So the situation is unpredictable in Basra and in Iraq generally. The situation in Afghanistan in Helmand Province when the moonlighting Taliban have come back from picking the poppy harvest is another concern for many of us.
It is against that background that I pick up a point made by the noble and gallant Lord. I used to spend time with my noble friend Lord Freeman going round the country, encouraging employers to release people to join and serve in the TA. I made the case, which I believe very strongly, that they ought to release some of their best executives. This was a wonderful career development for them and would give them leadership skills. We know that many companies now spend a lot of money on company courses and paintball exercises and various other artificial ways of trying to get people out of the office environment to get some real experience. I said there was nothing better for them than to join the TA and the volunteer reserves and to get that experience of leadership in an entirely different environment. But I was suggesting that their commitment would be a couple of weeks’ camp and a few weekends and drill nights and maybe the risk of something a bit more active. I never suggested to anyone, nor did anyone think, that I was encouraging them to send some of their key personnel—possibly the vital cogs in a small business—off for six months, with the risk that they might be asked to go back again thereafter. In the worst and most unfortunate of all circumstances, to which my noble friend Lord Freeman quite rightly paid tribute, there was the risk that they might not even come back. That poses a major problem.
I have been surprised at the way in which the volunteer reserves have held up as well as they have in the changed role that is now being demanded of them. Many people say to me that they love the excitement, the challenge and the completely different life. That up to a point is undoubtedly true and we know this from recruiting. Many people will do perhaps a three-year tour of service. The second time may be possible but the third time becomes much more difficult.
The figures are not entirely clear but they seem to be under considerable pressure at present, with the potential to fall quite significantly, which is a matter of great concern. So I welcome the announcement of the review called for by the all-party group last summer. I was interested to see that the Public Accounts Committee report said:
“Significant parts of the Reserve Forces are being restructured and undergoing other changes but the Department is making decisions on these changes in the absence of reliable management information about the cost and capability of Reserve Forces”.
What a serious allegation that is—that changes have been made without having the information on which to ensure that those decisions are well based.
It is against that background that I look to this review because I believe profoundly in the importance of our Reserve Forces. Bluntly, we do not really have any at present. We are living in the expectation that we shall not face any more serious dangers. As we failed to predict the Falklands War, the first Gulf War or the new developments which now face us in Afghanistan and Iraq, the idea that we can be jolly sure we know exactly what the future will bring is a singularly dangerous philosophy to adopt.
The noble and gallant Lord will remember the publication of Options for Change, when it was announced that with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, our Armed Forces would be reduced. However, we still kept a quarter of a million people in uniform. I was challenged by a BBC reporter who asked me, “What on earth are we keeping all these people for? Now that the Cold War is over and the Soviet Union is no longer a threat, why do we need to keep so many people? What threat do you anticipate?” I replied that it was the threat of the unexpected. That was a lucky answer because three days later Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we saw what the unexpected could look like.
Against that background, no Government with proper stewardship of our nation’s defence and security can allow the country to continue without adequate and proper Reserve Forces. They have been an essential part of our framework and security in the past and we need to ensure that they continue on a strong and sustainable basis.
My Lords, I join all other noble Lords who have spoken in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for introducing the debate and especially for the comprehensive way in which he covered not just the Reserve Forces but his role in the Army Cadet Force, which I shall mention later.
As a past serving member of the Territorial Army and one who served for many years in the Army Emergency Reserve, I am pleased to contribute to the debate. My long association with the Reserve Forces started when I was demobilised from the Royal Signals in 1952, following two years’ national service. At that time, national servicemen had to serve for three and a half years in a territorial unit following their demobilisation. I was very lucky as I was posted to the Army Phantom Signal Regiment in Hammersmith on demobilisation. I enjoyed my service there and signed on for four years. Any old soldier will tell you that you should never volunteer for anything but I became a volunteer. For many years after that I served in the Army Emergency Reserve. There were many benefits for those, like me, who were returning to their homes and jobs after two years away. The most obvious benefit was the continuation of the comradeship of the previous two years. I believe that friendships formed in the Army are very special indeed.
There were a number of benefits to being a member of the TA such as learning new skills, being trained in the use of modern weapons and keeping up to date with changes in training methods. The years that followed as a reservist in the Army Emergency Reserve had their moments. During the Suez crisis the Z reservists were called up. The net did not include Army Emergency Reserve members but we looked very carefully at the post every morning just in case the authorities decided that they needed heavy truck drivers. By that time I was in the Royal Army Service Corps, which later became the Royal Corps of Transport.
Today’s reservists face tremendous challenges. Their dedication and total commitment serve our nation well. They can be rightly proud of that. We, in turn, can be rightly proud of them. They face danger daily. We sometimes tend to forget that these people are away from their homes and jobs and face danger and conflict daily.
It is my understanding—the Minister might like to confirm this—that some TA units are being reroled: infantry regiments are being changed to Royal Engineers. This is a very important step that should be welcomed. To have reservists properly trained in the tasks that the Royal Engineers traditionally perform can, and probably will, be of benefit in times of national and international disasters.
As has been mentioned, a key factor in the whole question of Reserve Forces is the role of the employer. There have been stories of some employers making life difficult for volunteers when they return from their active service. I know that they are not typical. However, I should like to ask the Minister whether there are any new initiatives in the pipeline to encourage employers to make it easier for their employees to volunteer for TA service if that is the individual’s wish. The latest figures I read indicated that there are approximately 34,000 serving members of the Territorial Army and that the target strength is for an establishment of 42,000. Can the Minister say whether that is the present situation?
As we are recognising the tremendous contribution of reservists over the past 100 years, I hope that I may add a few words about the Council of Reserve Forces and Cadets Association—RFCA—which is also celebrating its centenary this year. I realised only when the debate started that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, is the president. I wish him well and thank him for the role he is playing in bringing the cadet forces together. The RFCA is responsible for managing the Reserve Forces estate and the Army Cadet Force. The recruitment of youngsters into school cadet units is something we should encourage.
It is reported that the Youth Justice Board currently spends about £260 million a year on custody, with the rehabilitation programme for young offenders costing between £550 and £650 per individual per day. An air cadet costs approximately £700 a year. In other words, the cost of youth custody for just one person for a year could fund an additional 280 cadets.
I cannot speak about the long-term benefits of former Army cadets but as regards air cadets—in which I have an interest as a trustee of the RAF Museum—there is evidence that the cost to the country in dealing with young offenders is even greater after the age of 18 when the young offender has a significantly greater chance of reoffending compared with an ex-cadet with the same background. That gives food for thought. I believe that a similar analysis of those who have been through the cadet force system in the Army would show similar results. I welcome the enthusiasm of my noble friend Lord Adonis—the Minister responsible for skills and education—in seeking to bring state and private school cadet forces together. That is an important move which needs to be encouraged. By encouraging youngsters to enter the world of proper training and to learn responsibility I am sure that many of them will become volunteers in our Reserve Forces in later life.
I conclude my remarks with a reference to what I said earlier about my own TA service. Will the Minister undertake inquiries on my behalf? In 1953, along with two others from the Army Phantom Signal Regiment, I was invited to take part in the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen. Suitably dressed in a dress uniform I marched with others to our post at Hyde Park Corner. Noble Lords can only guess how proud I was that day. My question to the Minister is to inquire whether I qualified for the Queen’s Coronation Medal. I know that Captain Lloyd from our unit received one, but, then again, I suppose that corporals were not seen in the same light as captains. However, one can only hope.
I wish the reservists of our forces, from whichever service they come, good fortune and I thank them for what they are doing for us all.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. He recalled his national service days. I was a bit behind him in that but I too certainly remember Suez.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Freeman on the outstanding way in which he introduced the debate. He did a service to the whole House. I compliment the Minister even before she has said anything. Over the past two months I have taken part in three Thursday debates and this is the first time that a Minister will reply rather than an unfortunate Whip. I congratulate her on that as it is the way in which Parliament should be organised.
I wish to make two comments based on a trip I made to the British forces base in Basra last month. I wish to comment particularly on the position of medical reservists in the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. I imagine that the majority view in this country is that the British forces in Iraq have been entirely sidelined, that they have withdrawn to their base at the airport and that they watch what is happening from afar, probably in some safety. That is not remotely the impression that I received when I was there or an accurate portrayal of what has taken place over the past 10 or 11 months.
Since June 2007, more than 800 rockets and mortars have been fired into the base which is, in effect, a small town with a 23 kilometre perimeter that is difficult to defend. People have been killed and injured. The forces are not just carrying out a defensive role, they are training Iraqi troops in urban warfare, they are carrying out anti-smuggling operations from Iran, and they are detecting and disposing of roadside bombs. As my noble friend Lord King pointed out, it appears that they are being deployed once again in Basra city itself.
The Iraqis are now in the lead. That is not a matter of criticism. To take over responsibility there is exactly what we want. The British still have an important role. That has been illustrated in the past month in the push that the Iraqi forces themselves have made to control the militias in the city, the so-called Battle of Basra. It is well known that the push came as a surprise to the Americans and the British. Nevertheless, it has been very successful. One of the reasons is that when the Iraqi supplies ran dangerously low, they were replaced by British army supplies and British soldiers operating from their base. The other feature is that the fighting was fierce and the casualties among Iraqi troops were heavy. For 48 to 72 hours, the field hospital at the Basra base worked around the clock dealing not with British casualties but Iraqi casualties, at times transporting them in under some difficulties. The House needs to remember that this is an area where, once you leave the base, the Red Cross on the side of the armoured ambulance is taken down because it is used as a target, not something to be specifically avoided. By all accounts, the treatment at the field hospital itself was excellent. It is that combined effort which is so important.
Army medical services in Iraq have been crucially dependent on Army medical reservists: consultants, doctors and nurses. It is one of the lesser known facts of the whole conflict just how great their effort has been. Before I went there, I did not fully realise it myself. So far, almost 2,000 Army medical service reservists have been deployed in Iraq, volunteers, drawn predominantly from the health service in this country and also giving a guarantee of 12 months service in a five-year period. Working together with the regular RAMC, they have made a superb effort there. As a former Health Secretary, I observe that the field hospital at the Basra base is impeccable. It is built in a desert and the temperature outside may be more than 40 degrees, but inside there is an atmosphere of cool efficiency. If you are in need of urgent medical attention, that is the place to go. I doubt whether there is any prospect of MRSA there either.
Medical reservists are serving not just in Iraq. Six hundred medical reservists have been deployed in Afghanistan. As we speak, there are more reservists there than in Iraq. The excellent House of Commons Select Committee on Defence, under my old friend James Arbuthnot, points out that reserve personnel play a crucial role in the delivery of military healthcare. The Territorial Army has so far met around half of the Armed Forces medical commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan. My noble friend Lord Freeman said that we cannot operate without those reservists. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, made a similar point.
I speak as a total admirer of the RAMC regulars and reservists. Against that background I ask the Minister a number of questions. In the evidence that was given to the House of Commons Select Committee, the British Medical Association argued that, given the choice of two equal candidates for a consultant post, an employer is likely to appoint the candidate with no reserve liability. Similar problems were likely to exist in general practice. Reserve liability will often be considered a handicap and a disincentive to recruit. I do not know how accurate that comment from the BMA is, but that point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle. Can the Minister assure the House that that is not the case? We all understand the problems the National Health Service has in meeting demand. But the reservists are men and women who are committed to the health service, and are also prepared to volunteer and make an additional and dangerous contribution to caring for wounded soldiers. Rather than this being a disadvantage in employment, I would hope that the health authorities would regard it as an extra commendation.
Perhaps the more fundamental question is whether we have become too dependent on reservists. With operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, are we becoming overstretched in this vital area? What is being done about the recruitment and retention of our Regular Forces? This is part of a much wider question. Nevertheless, it is a crucial one. We cannot take on commitment after commitment and hope that the system will take the strain. Our commitments must be in proportion to the sources that we are prepared to devote. Just like elsewhere, there are important issues of policy regarding medical services that we wrongly take for granted.
I agree strongly with the Commons Select Committee that the role of the medical reservists needs to be recognised more. It is largely unknown by the general public. It deserves far more than that and the Ministry of Defence might turn its mind to that. The reservists are doing a vital job in caring for casualties. They are often doing it under very great danger indeed. Those serving today and those who have served in the past deserve the most enormous credit and praise.
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for the opportunity for this important debate. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and I have some shared concerns. Noble Lords will hear some of the things that he has said repeated by me. They are none the worse for that. General Sir Michael Jackson said in a recent Dimbleby lecture:
“It is our soldiers who pay the cost in blood. The nation must therefore pay the cost in treasure. Soldiers and their families must be properly valued, and when I talk of the soldier and his family I am talking not only about the regular army, I very much include the reserve, the Territorial Army, and the reserves in the other two services. They, too, play their notable part: they take the risks and the contract applies to them equally”.
I am indebted to the Royal British Legion for much of what I am about to say, particularly about the practical issues which need to be addressed if we are to support the reservists as well as celebrating their unique contribution to defence. There are 88,000 reservists in the Armed Forces. More than 12,000 were deployed in Iraq during the war-fighting phase. Even now, 4 per cent of those in Iraq are reservists, while in Afghanistan 9 per cent of the force are reservists. They are particularly vital in meeting pinch-points defined by the National Audit Office and by the admirable Armed Forces Pay Review Body, especially in the field of medicine. They will certainly be vital as regards civil contingency, which has been mentioned as a unique and rather new contribution to defence.
The chairman of the Armed Forces Committee of the British Medical Association recently told the Select Committee on Defence that being repeatedly deployed does a career no good. Reservists lose out over training, and employers, including the NHS, are increasingly less enthusiastic in support after repeated redeployments. We are not looking at a tour every other year, but tours at frequent intervals. Harmony has gone out of the window. Reservists meet the shortfall of 55 per cent in the medical services. Retention of the Defence Medical Services’ doctors is critical and must be addressed as a major priority.
The practical issue that is of special concern to me, however, is aftercare for all reservists returning to the community. Research into health surveillance has been carried out at the King’s Centre and demonstrated that reservists were reporting mental health issues at double the rate of their regular counterparts. As a result, the MoD has introduced the Reservists Mental Health Programme. This has been warmly welcomed by the legion, but there is one major difficulty which must be tackled at once. The programme offers a mental health assessment to reservists who have been in active deployment since 2003, and anyone diagnosed with PTSD, or any other stress-related disorder, is eligible for treatment through the department of mental health.
However, the great difficulty is that 84 per cent of GPs, through whom referral must be made, have, on being questioned, said that they knew nothing at all about the programme. If they do not know, it is very probable that their patients do not. Reservists already tend to be more isolated when they return to civilian life than regular soldiers and are therefore probably more prone to stress. It is vital that they should know that their GP can refer them and that help is available. A clear and simple notice about this should surely go to all GPs.
Reservists injured in operations are entitled also to priority treatment by the NHS. In many cases, the NHS does not appear to know this. Not least, reservists’ families, like service families, will often need welfare support. The Defence Committee remains concerned, in any case, that medical records do not transfer as seamlessly from the Armed Forces to civilian life as they could. Too much is left to the initiative of the patient. Reserve units should have, as the NAO has recommended, adequate, dedicated provision of welfare support. Families can be very isolated and post-traumatic stress and alcoholism, often a factor in that stress, all have serious consequences for the family as much as for the reservists themselves. They take time to surface and a safety net needs to be put in place soon.
The Army Families Federation expressed concern to the Select Committee about the need for much clearer, better information to be available. The MoD’s very good initiative is wasted without a really effective campaign to inform GPs, the NHS, the reservists themselves and their families, and the public of what is available and what rights reservists have to priority treatment. It will save many lives over many years.
I submit that Her Majesty’s Government also need to recognise the vital role played by the charities; the Royal British Legion, SSAFA, Combat Stress and the service charities to name only a few. Recently, I was deeply impressed to find that the legion, Citizens Advice and the RAF Benevolent Fund have combined to set up the unique Benefits and Money Advice unit. It is available to serving and ex-service men and women through 19 citizens advice bureaux. Citizens Advice is already working with the Veterans Policy Unit in the MoD. Could it not produce some simple leaflets telling reservists and all veterans their priority rights in the NHS and the special services available on referral by GPs? These could be distributed through the BMA, the family federations and the charities, as well as by the appropriate service organisations and perhaps the CABs. We need to demonstrate practical support for the people who are serving the country so well.
Unfortunately, the DMS does not track reservists or regular veterans once they have left service. The Defence Select Committee recommended introducing a robust tracking system for veterans, which could include reservists, to ensure that they are receiving the healthcare that they need and are entitled to. The MoD and the NHS would need to work, as the legion says, in partnership to design and implement such a system. The legion would support it and believes that one possible way to help deliver priority treatment more successfully would be through the introduction of an NHS tracking system for veterans. An opt-out tracking system would, in the view of the legion, make it much easier for health professionals to identify veterans and reservists and give them their due. Perhaps the most important recommendation in this area is that of the NAO that information supplied to reservists’ families should be written in plain English, and that all reserve units have adequate, dedicated provision of welfare support. We cannot say that we are supporting, admiring and valuing these people if practical steps to help them in their daily lives, and those of their families, are not taken.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for introducing the debate. I join others in expressing admiration and pride for the selfless service of our men and women undertaken in the past few years. It is outstanding, and we must recognise that it is enabled only by the exceptional support of their families. They continue to run the home and family life, often on their own, for six months or more, coping with all those life problems that used to be shared.
In debating the future roles, we are also providing ideas and discussion for the review team. Today, that team has the luxury of hearing all the answers without having to ask the questions. We should bear in mind that the customers of the reserves are the Regular Forces. It is often said that the customer is always right. They are the ones who need the support, and if the reserves are not supplying the relevant numbers and skills, they become unsustainable.
The first step is, therefore, for others—senior officers currently serving—to define this support precisely: that is, what the regulars require and what they expect to receive when it arrives. The second step is for the review team to gather the evidence to form an opinion on how that can best be done. Having accepted the review team’s recommendations, the third step is that the Government must fund the reserves to this level. Should they not do so, all will have been in vain, and the operational commitments as they appear in the medium term will not be sustainable.
I want to comment on the second step—on the TA, because that is where my experience lies. First, I note that the review team consists of officers and MoD civil servants. There is therefore an absence of independent civilians with no direct military involvement or special loyalty to the system. Yet, we recruit reserves from the civilian community. Once recruited, they spend 95 per cent of their lives in this community. It is only when they are mobilised that they enter the military community. Your Lordships can see that the review team very much comes from within the MoD. Will its members not be prejudiced a little, as we all are when we come across the military and we are all very impressed—even those who have been on the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, which I have not? What can be done to address this issue?
I realise that civilian consultants have been taken on. However, it is sometimes said that consultants produce a report that suits the purpose. If we are dealing with the civilian community and we know of the problems of awareness in that area, we must get out there and learn more about the potential and how to harness it. This review is the equivalent of a committee inquiry in the House, perhaps, whether EU-related or otherwise. We are constantly told of the value of these reports for precisely the reason that they are objective and not influenced by prejudices. In addition, does the Minister agree that the review should have verbatim shorthand transcripts of all the evidence? It adds much more value to successive witnesses’ evidence if they have some idea of the direction in which the review is going prior to appearing before it. This written evidence could be kept up to date on a website, as it is with committees.
I have one final point on the review. There should be a comprehensive call for evidence, as we would issue for an inquiry here, to all organisations, employers and reserve bases. This should be placed on the internet and, as is the case in this House, there should be press releases to tell people where to find it on the internet. The comments and returns that we get may be useful, and even refreshing or shocking. We must have the widest participation.
On the subject of recruiting, most units are understrength, so it is important that we improve this. The new organisation, the Recruiting Group and Commander Regional Recruiting, seems to be working well in Northern Ireland, although I have heard contrary reports about it in mainland GB. The recruiting team needs to be aware of this and to look into it. Apart from via current TV and newspaper adverts, schools and word of mouth, how do civilians access the system? What presence do we have in the civilian job market—in jobcentres and so on? I fear that it is too little or almost non-existent, yet we are trying to communicate with that civilian client group. Army recruiting offices are perhaps formidable places. Some people do not like to be seen by their friends to go in there. Also, they appear to be organised for school leavers, who may wish to join the Regular Forces. However, many reserve recruits are mature people with jobs. I am sure that they can wholly reflect the opportunities, commitments and career enhancement of the reserves—but do they? In short, they might not really market the job very well.
Clearly, we fail to achieve our aim of full recruitment. In officer recruiting, we are said to be achieving about half the numbers that we wish for. I am aware of the university OTCs, but I wonder whether there is more that we can do in this area to encourage potential reserve officers. Could we, for instance, tie membership of the OTC, and a commitment to reserve service of two or three years, to a refunding of some or all of an individual’s student loan? This would perhaps be taken quite well. Even at £5,000 or £10,000, it would be good value. Before the MoD jumps up and down and refuses to cost it, what about one of the other departments, such as Work and Pensions? We are told of the excellent benefits to employment and careers that such service involves, so it could be somebody else’s responsibility.
I make a few points about training. One issue is the reduction in, or non-availability of, funds for adequate training in units that are not currently on the operations plot. This has the effect of personnel in those units lacking job satisfaction and motivation, and suffering a reduction in morale. It also affects recruiting. There is strong anecdotal evidence that some potential recruits are avoiding those units, trying to find another and sometimes giving up, on the basis that they wish to go on operations. If we have units that are not relevant to current operations due to size or skills mix, should they be sustained or should they be reroled for the time being and attached to a more relevant unit? We should remember that the TA is by nature flexible.
In Northern Ireland during the Troubles, we had part-time battalions up to 1,500 strong. That was on the basis of trying to get a regular battalion’s patrolling capability. Perhaps we should amalgamate more reserve units to form larger battalions, if necessary retaining their historic names, but under one umbrella. Composite companies would be easier to form for tours, and the remainder left behind would still provide continued structural integrity and formed unit training ability. Currently, with company-sized deployments, this is often not the case. There would also be fewer named units off the ops plot with the previously described problems.
We have two types of reinforcements—individuals and formed bodies. We have heard about the specialists, who are very good as individual reinforcements—ATOs, signallers, medics and so on. However, it is not necessarily so with soldiers. We also have formed bodies. For instance, at the moment Imjin Company of 2 Royal Irish, of which I am honorary colonel, is on operations in Afghanistan, as a complete composite company with 1 Royal Irish. It consists of 100 Territorial Army and about 30 regulars, commanded most ably by a Royal Irish TA major, Mark Hudson. It is a great credit to the TA and an example of best practice in such deployment. This is not the first TA company deployment, but it is the first to go with a sister or parent unit, which has that advantage.
On retention, the National Employer Advisory Board is key. I will not go into this, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, is speaking immediately after me. My only point is that the other imperative is to maintain the support of the families. Maybe they should also come under the umbrella of such an organisation, since this important triangle consists of the serviceperson, their family and the employer.
I speak on aftercare for a moment. The subject was brought up by the noble Baroness, Lady Park. I spoke about this in the debate on the Queen’s Speech and I will not repeat myself. When the Minister kindly replied to me in writing, she pointed out what progress was being made in coping with mental health in the veteran community. However, I make the point that government plans rely on these cases walking into medical centres. We have had nearly 40 years of experience and the truth is that patients suffering delayed mental illness do not just walk in, and an outreach organisation such as we have in Northern Ireland is required. Many military people agree with this.
When I saw the Secretary of State in his office last Tuesday, I understood him to say that, because of improved practices such as in-theatre psychiatrists and post-op decompression, he did not expect the mental after-effects to be as extreme as after the Falklands War. I am not a psychiatrist, but I wonder how many of them would agree. When I asked him about regimental associations and keeping in contact with veterans, he said that this was their affair and that he did not want to interfere. However, the fact is that there is no regimental association forum or central discussion of best practice, and associations have vastly differing amounts in their benevolent funds with which to work. There is a services welfare conference on 8 July. This morning, the Secretary of State’s office was unable to tell me whether these people had even been asked to it. That is an omission.
I have one more point. When the Commons Defence Committee produced its report on mental health, it was not even made aware of our situation in Northern Ireland, with our 40 years’ experience. When I spoke to the chairman, he had not even heard of the aftercare service. Secondly, after the CGS opened our facility recently, it was suggested that perhaps there should be a presentation at this conference. Within 24 hours, the Under-Secretary of State’s office had turned down the suggestion, saying that the subject could remain on the fringes, but that the Under-Secretary would go and see the unit some time. There is no justification for keeping such innovative ideas out of such an important discussion on our soldiers’ welfare. I look forward to following the progress of the review team, perhaps even on the internet.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Freeman for securing this important and timely debate. I join him in celebrating 100 years of the Territorial Army. It is not often that we have a full debate on the reserves in your Lordships’ House, although we regularly refer to them in ordinary defence debates. I was astonished that the only debate I could find was introduced by myself on 12 December 1979. I was even more surprised to discover that, apart from myself and Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, who replied for the Government, I am the only one still alive—apart from my noble friend Lord Hayhoe, who was a Minister at the time and who was referred to in the debate. Perhaps we should return to this subject more regularly.
I must declare a number of interests. I am chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for the reserves, which takes informed, independent advice to Ministers and chiefs of staff on how to win and maintain the support of the employers of reservists. Through that role, I play a part on a number of MoD committees and studies. I attend the council meetings of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association with my noble friend Lord Freeman. I am also honorary colonel of 306 Field Hospital (Volunteers) and Honorary Air Commodore of 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force. That is another medical unit and I very much endorse the comments made by my noble friend Lord Fowler on the Defence Medical Services.
Through all these activities, it is obvious that I meet many reservists and I can testify, as others have done, to the enormous professionalism, skill, commitment and bravery of them all. I spent a couple of days in Afghanistan in April, with representatives of employers and from the Ministry of Defence. To see reservists, whether in formed units such as that of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, Imjin Company, to whom I spoke, or as individual reservist reinforcements playing such a full part, enthusiastically and in a way that made it impossible to tell them apart from their regular counterparts, so complete was the integration, is humbling. I have to say to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, that I was privileged to be talking only the morning before he died to Senior Aircraftman Thompson. What an impressive person he was. How proud his family must be of him.
I will concentrate my remarks on the importance of employers to the generation of adequate numbers of reservists. My comments are entirely my own personal comments, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Employer Advisory Board. I am extremely grateful to the Minister and her ministerial colleagues, the Chiefs of Staff, the director of Reserve Forces and Cadets staff and the chains of command for the ready access which, over a number of years, they have afforded me and my board, so that we can be enabled to offer the advice that we do.
The attitude of employers to reserve service is one of a number of issues affecting recruitment and retention. The attitude of families is another. Employer support has held up remarkably well to continued mobilisation over the past five or six years. It is worth saying to the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, that research that we have shows that 87 per cent of employers believe that reservists should be supported by employers as a matter of principle. That is a very encouraging fact.
The numbers of appeals against mobilisation, from either the reservist or the employer, is very low. That is largely due to what is known as intelligent mobilisation, where the individual volunteers well ahead to be compulsorily mobilised for operations at the moment at which they should be, to comply with the necessary relevant Acts of Parliament. The Reserve Forces Act 1996 stipulates that for the current operations, in Afghanistan and Iraq, a reservist should not be mobilised for more than 12 months in any three-year period. The published defence intent is for mobilisation for not more than 12 months in any five-year period. The new Armed Forces Act allows a volunteer to agree to be mobilised for more than 12 months in any three-year period. Although the latter is more likely to be applied to the unemployed, the three elements could be confusing to an employer.
Intelligent mobilisation has been a success so far but, like my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, I am nervous that it may not remain a successful policy for ever. There are a number of instances where niche capabilities have to be provided more regularly than one year in three. With some 1,700 volunteer reservists deployed currently in any one year, I am bound to wonder for how long the voluntary element alone will be sustainable, without recourse to compulsory mobilisation for those who do not volunteer. If that becomes a necessity—I hope it does not—what will be the effect and the reaction of employers? As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, asked, how do we safeguard their willingness to release their employees?
Employers receive a degree of financial compensation for the provision of replacements for their mobilised staff under Statutory Instrument 859, but whether that is sufficient, or will be in the future, is difficult to tell. I welcome research that is going on in the Ministry of Defence on whether further incentives along that line could be introduced. One of the key elements in an effort to maintain understanding of reserve service has been the work of SaBRE—Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers—which my noble friend Lord Freeman referred to. It is in effect the organisation set up by the Ministry of Defence to support the relationship between reservists and employers. It also generates data and measures the level of employer support for reservists. Over time, it has become rather more about engagement than simply support; in effect it generates dialogue among all those concerned.
Whereas SaBRE used to be based in the Ministry of Defence, it is now co-located with my noble friend’s Reserve Forces and Cadets Association headquarters in London. It remains an organisation in which my board takes a close interest. Indeed, my board advises the Ministry of Defence and SaBRE on the strategy, content and mix of the SaBRE marketing plan, as well as on the efficiency and effectiveness of the SaBRE campaign. Staffed by experienced and qualified marketing professionals, it has been largely instrumental in securing and promulgating the key messages to employers and reservists over the years and on how best to adapt the messages in the light of changed circumstances.
SaBRE has excellent regional campaign directors, who are co-located with my noble friend’s Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. It often worries me that there appears to be some variety—overall, I have lots of admiration for the work of RFCAs—as to how the RFCAs locally deliver the SaBRE campaign in their regions and consequently how the increasingly slender funds that SaBRE has at its disposal can be used to best effect. The SaBRE budget of effectively under £3 million a year is woefully inadequate for what is required.
There is one other related area of growing importance, which runs under a number of headings—defence and society, Armed Forces and society, the defence contribution to society, or whatever one wants to call it. As my noble friend Lord Freeman said, the reserves have a key role in developing that concept, because they are a natural bridge between the military and civilian elements of society—they are in both. The responsibility also lies in the chains of command, with the RFCAs and others. The maintenance of accurate data about employers is a key element in SaBRE’s activities. It also helps to inform the internal review of employer support that is ongoing in the MoD, which in turn will help to inform the reserves review, which has been spoken about.
However, there is no MoD central policy on Armed Forces and society—or whatever it is to be called—which is awkward. The result could be that the chain of command activities to develop competing databases without any formalised, overarching strategy or management controls and protocols on how they will be used might well have a damaging effect on the ability of SaBRE to conduct its remit. To my mind, its central remit cannot be subordinated to or replaced by a regionally based structure, however well intentioned. If it becomes so, SaBRE centrally will lose its independence, and the MoD’s whole employer support strategy, including the future of SaBRE, will be put at considerable risk. I hope that the noble Baroness can take that away and reflect on it, because I regard it as a serious matter.
The last element that I will mention is the substantial appetite for industry to find innovative means of supporting reservists and getting tangible rewards in the form of the experiences brought back to the workplace by those routinely trained and those who are mobilised. Many of their skills are just the kind that the Armed Forces are so good at generating, such as, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater, said, leadership, communications, decision-making, loyalty and team-working, to name but a few. It is a sad fact that those and other attributes are not as prevalent in every aspect of civilian society as they ought to be. Some encouraging work is already being done, but I want the Ministry of Defence to continue to explore, develop and embrace imaginative proposals that have the capacity to lead to much more flexible careers covering the Regular Forces, the reserves and the civilian workplace.
Recruiting and retention for the Regular Forces, let alone the reserves, is not without its difficulties. We should be much more imaginative and inquiring about how, in a very changed world from that which prevailed 30 years ago, we strive to maintain the viability of the totality of our Armed Forces. Employers, large and small, are mostly willing to bear the burden of their employees being released for military duties. Let us engage with them, so as to complete a virtuous circle of opportunity. Let us not be too reluctant or hesitant to explore ideas and opportunities that may not necessarily fit within contemporary doctrine and procedures. Many parts of industry and commerce can move more rapidly than the Ministry of Defence in grasping new ideas. I—
My Lords, I am just coming to my conclusion. I hope that the Ministry of Defence can more readily accept the concept of partnership with industry, rather than a customer-supplier relationship in this regard. I am sure that the reserves review will take account of those issues. If it does, the Regular Forces, the reserves and employers will benefit, and so will society as a whole.
My Lords, I am delighted to speak in this debate and to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Freeman for his wonderful work for the RFCAs. I am president of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for Yorkshire and the Humber and vice-president of the North of England Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. The reason for my close involvement with those organisations is not because of a distinguished military background, but because traditionally, as my noble friend mentioned, the RFCAs have lord-lieutenants as their presidents and we chair the main meetings. My area is North Yorkshire and I am the only lord-lieutenant with a seat in the House of Lords. This is in marked contrast to days gone by when a high percentage of lord-lieutenants had seats in your Lordships’ House. All were men and all were drawn from a services background. All that has very much changed and the noble Baroness might be pleased to know that about a third of lord-lieutenants are women. Things have changed a great deal.
It is a great honour to be connected with the Reserve Forces and all of us in the Chamber today are very much aware of the contribution that they make to the enactment of our defence policy. I wish to touch on three aspects of the Reserve Forces from a north-east perspective: first, the nature of the commitment of reservists to current operations; secondly, the special pressures that they face; and, thirdly, the impact that integration of the reserves with the Regular Forces has and will have.
In Yorkshire and the Humber, 352 reservists from the three services have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past three years. They have made a significant and valued contribution. A similar number have been deployed from the north of England area. In the next 12 months, it is planned that approximately 300 TA personnel will be deployed on operations from the north-east. Most are deployed as individuals or in small groups to augment regular units. In some cases, the reservists provide unique capabilities, such as the 201 Field Hospital and the 212 Field Hospital in Afghanistan last year. Indeed, much emphasis has been put on how important the medical aspect of reservists is.
General Sir Richard Dannatt, in his speech at the Guidhall last Thursday, following the service in St Paul’s to mark the 100th anniversary of the Territorial Army, said that when the bullets are flying, regulars and reservists are one and the same. A number have made the ultimate sacrifice and some have sustained serious injuries. At a recent RFCA meeting at Imphal Barracks in York a private soldier from the Yorkshire Regiment TA Battalion gave a moving account of what happened to him and how he is adjusting to life, after losing a leg as a result of a roadside bomb in Basra while his colleagues lost their lives. We all greatly admired the inspirational way that he was coping. He is making the most of his altered circumstances and has just been accepted to read prosthetics at university. There were about 100 members of the RFCA at that meeting—the sort of number that we normally attract. They are drawn from all walks of life in our locality. We are delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, recently agreed to become a member.
Although when the bullets are flying, reservists and regulars are as one, it is important to differentiate between the challenges faced by reservists and those of the Regular Army. Reservists’ training is inevitably spread over long periods, but the aim is to deploy them with and on a par with the Regular Forces. They have to manage relationships with families and employers, whereas regular servicemen can assume some understanding of the circumstances of any deployment that he or she has on operations. The problem of managing these relationships is exacerbated when reservists are deployed for two or more tours. A noble Lord pointed out that the first time is very exciting and the second time is rather less so.
The welfare structures available to the Regular Forces have perhaps not been as immediately available to reservists, although I am told that the situation is improving. But if a reservist returns to the UK with medical or psychological problems, he will receive support from his local NHS wherever he happens to live. However, it is possible that the NHS in that area simply may not have the experience to deal with his or her problems. That, of course, can lead to difficulties.
I wish to touch on the process and impact of integrating the reserves with the Regular Forces, which has been articulated in the one-army concept. There is inevitable tension between the needs of the Ministry of Defence regarding its Reserve Forces and the recognition of what reservists expect regarding their families, communities and their employers. The basic nature of the volunteer reservist remains territorial, by which I mean that in general a reservist is unable to travel any great distance to make his or her contribution to the forces. It is important that this fact is recognised in the terms and conditions of service and in any supporting legislation. Reservists must be able to train within striking distance of their homes.
A further problem attached to the one-army concept is that it perhaps fails to recognise that the Reserve Forces provide a footprint across the United Kingdom that ensures that the services do not become too distant from the population at large—the very communities from which the reserves are drawn. Any plans to remove reservists into fewer locations, perhaps adjacent to existing Regular Forces locations, must take into account the potential loss of the footprint. For instance, in North Yorkshire, the principal base for Regular Forces is Catterick Garrison, which is the largest garrison in Europe. It would not lend itself to providing a base for TA units.
Finally, regarding the future of reserves, I wish to comment on the effectiveness of the 13 regional Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations. They are the only organisations that support reservists from all three services and the cadet forces of those services. They provide the practical bridge between units, members of the reserves and the local communities from which they are drawn. As I said, our membership in Yorkshire and the north-east is drawn from a wide variety of people.
The RFCAs have moved with the times, and a lot of restructuring has gone on in the past two or three years to provide better support to the reserves, employer support, and to develop the MoD's youth agenda through the cadet forces, in support of regional youth initiatives. One-army recruiting, which has centralised regular and TA recruiting, removes a lot of responsibility for recruiting to the TA from RFCAs, which many see as detrimental to TA units. I strongly urge that in the forthcoming review of the reserves, care is taken not further to reduce the effectiveness and contribution of our RFCAs.
I take this opportunity to thank the reserves—as every noble Lord has done—for the admirable and selfless part that they play in operations alongside their regular colleagues. I also emphasise the need to recognise the aspirations and expectations of the reservists. Finally, I caution against overenthusiasm for the full integration of our forces, because it does not take into account the different circumstances of being a reservist compared with being a regular soldier.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Freeman for providing us with this opportunity to reflect on the rich heritage of our Reserve Forces over the past 100 years and their remarkable and proud achievements in the service of this country. It is a service that continues as we speak, as was emphasised by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and many others.
I hope that I may be allowed to speak up for the Naval Reserves. I have a particular interest in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, which, as noble Lords may be aware, was established four years before the Act founding the Territorial Army, by the Naval Forces Act 1903. I suggest that the formation of the RNVR helped to spur initial thoughts about having a formally reconstituted reserve land force. During the passage of that Bill, Sir John Colomb, Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth, suggested that if we had naval volunteers willing to serve anywhere, why not also have military volunteers.
My grandfather regarded the founding of the RNVR as the greatest achievement of his life. He had found himself as a volunteer attached to the Royal Naval Brigade in the Boer War in charge of a 4.7 inch gun. In spite of Admiral Sir George Tryon, as First Sea Lord, having done away with our reserves in 1893, he felt keenly that with proper training they could provide very necessary reinforcements. He organised civic meetings up and down the country, culminating in one convened by the Lord Mayor of London, with large numbers of mayors and parliamentarians attending.
Having presented the departmental committee of the Admiralty with a detailed scheme of training, he was appointed a member of Sir Edward Grey's committee to frame the general guidelines of the proposed RNVR. That was presented to Parliament along with the Naval Estimates in 1903 and was followed by the passing of the Naval Forces Act in June that year. Following the passage of the act, the Admiralty appointed my grandfather as one of the two first commanding officers of the RNVR in August. My grandfather established the Clyde Division, the first RNVR unit to be formed after the passing of the Act that October. The division expanded rapidly and formed the heart of modern HMS “Scotia”.
My grandfather later held positions as Commodore of the East Coast of Scotland RNVR and Commodore RNVR. His efforts and contributions were recognised when a motor mine sweeper, FY233, was renamed HMS “Montrose” in his honour. I am proud that that namesake continues to date with one of the Navy's Duke class type-23 frigates. All that was done by a man who was so deaf that he realised that the Boers were shooting at him only when he noticed the plaster flying off the wall beside him.
In many ways, the rationale of the original Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and the relationship that evolved between the RNVR and UK land forces in response to wartime demands is still evident in the roles and tasking of today's Reserve Forces. That heritage arguably also provides some valuable context for the strategic view of Reserve Forces that, as my noble friend Lord Freeman mentioned, is currently being conducted by the Ministry of Defence. The RNVR was formed when the pace of naval expansion at the beginning of the 20th century meant that the Royal Navy Reserve, which was composed only of volunteers who already had seagoing backgrounds, could not by itself meet growing manning demands.
In addition, my grandfather was horrified to find out that at that time, the RNR had 48 drill ships with 233 guns, but of those, 104 were muzzle-loaders. If we think that equipment update is a problem nowadays, we can think what it must have been like at that time. The RNVR permitted civilians without seagoing experience to join and train. The benefits were twofold: not only was the Navy able to meet its growing manpower requirements; it was also able to utilise key civilian skills and trades held by the members of the RNVR. Today, these issues are no less pressing, which the Ministry of Defence has to address. I am told that the current review of Reserve Forces is looking at the scope for greater integration into the Regular Forces. Other Peers have mentioned this. As with the original rationale for the RNVR, today’s reservists continue to help address manning shortages. There is significant debate about whether they should be deployed as back-fillers or formed as units.
The MoD’s review is also looking at how to capitalise on the civilian skills that the reservists possess. This was, likewise, a key consideration in the passage of the Naval Forces Act 1903. The First Lord of the Admiralty, the fifth Earl of Selborne, noted the value of,
“special ratings in which a Naval Volunteer may be of particular use if he has taken every opportunity in time of peace to perfect himself according to the opportunities given him”.
These special ratings at that time included electrician ratings, mechanics, artisans and signal ratings. Today’s reserves, as stated by my noble friend Lord Freeman, bring skills in medicine, public affairs, media handling, and civil-military co-operation and reconstruction, among many others. Each of these is vital in meeting the multitude of complex demands in modern conflict zones. I am also aware that a balance must be struck. Not all reserves want to use their civilian specialisations in service; they want to develop entirely new skills.
The Reserve Forces have always been a versatile component of the national defence capability. Today their unique specialisations ensure that they not only work in operating environments of their parent service, but across the entire battle space. This reflects back to the founding of the RNVR, and its role in the First World War. During the passage of the 1903 Bill, the fifth Earl of Selborne made a pledge that no volunteers would be needed on land or—especially—on sea. The secretary to the Admiralty, Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster, noted that time would show the best use that could be made of them. As my noble friend Lord King described, the Territorials were very much required on the ground in the First World War. On the proclamation of war, the naval volunteers were summoned to report at their divisional headquarters, relatively few were drafted to ships of the fleet. As a result of the shortfall in infantry divisions, the majority of the RNVR formed two new naval brigades, along with members of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Fleet Reserve. These brigades later became the Royal Naval Division, a naval fighting force on land, which saw distinguished service in the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli campaign on the Western Front in 1916. The Royal Naval Division was retained under Admiralty control and retained naval traditions, even though it fought on land alongside the Army. Finally, the RNVR was amalgamated with the Royal Naval Reserve in 1958.
Our Reserve Forces have been, and will remain, a vital national asset. Today has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on their heritage, and their significant and ongoing contributions to national defence. I hope that this debate provides a context for the Ministry of Defence’s strategic review. Difficult decisions need to be made about models that will allow for the most usable and sustainable Reserve Force structures. This notwithstanding, one clear and unquestionable requirement is for the Government to commit to appropriate service terms and conditions for the reservists.
My Lords, like every other speaker, I address my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for taking the opportunity provided by the celebration of the centenary. He also gave a masterly review of the history of the Territorial Army and the vicissitudes that have befallen it over the past 100 years. Declarations have been made as to qualifications for speaking in this debate; I do not have many, but I was a proud member of the Home Guard, the local defence volunteers. During the war, LDV quickly came to stand for “look, duck, vanish”, but it provided me, at the age of 16 and 17, with an opportunity to serve the nation. That is how I look upon the Territorial Army. They are volunteers. They do not have to volunteer out of a, perhaps, “cushy” job in civilian life, but they are imbued with a desire for adventure and change. They see the opportunities for that. The phrase “to capitalise on civilian skills” was used by my noble kinsman, the chief of my clan, Clan Graham, who preceded me in this debate. That is what the Territorial Army is all about.
I have a book entitled, From Tyne To Thames Via The Usual Channels, by someone called Lord Graham of Edmonton. Inside is a photograph of the Home Guard unit of which I was a member. The House should be interested to know how units of the Home Guard were formed at that time. I was then, and continue to be, deeply involved with the Co-operative Movement. My unit were all employees of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Co-operative Society. Our top man, our CO, was Bill Richardson, the head of the menswear department. The sergeant was Bob Ridley, the branch manager at Fern Avenue Co-op.
In preparing for the debate, I looked through the book and recognised most of the unit. The phrase “to capitalise on civilian skills” fits very well. We had no skills as military men, but, in the main, we also were old soldiers. I was a young soldier yet to go into the forces. I went into the Royal Marines when I was 18 years old. Therefore, I have a link. One of the great things that Parliament can give us is the opportunity to meet in all-party groups. I am deeply honoured as an ex Royal Marine to be a member of the Royal Naval Association.
I looked through this book to see whether there were any other things to which I should like to draw your Lordships’ attention. One of the great differences between this House and another place is that not many people there have seen active service. In this place, there is an abundance of them. When we debated the War Crimes Bill in 1991, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, told the House with all modesty that he could not contribute much because he had been a prisoner of war at Colditz. On the Liberal Benches, John Mackie would get to his feet and tell us with all modesty that he had been a bomb aimer pilot during the war. The average number of flights over hostile territory was 12, but he did 75. In this place, we live in the midst of modest heroes.
This is what happened to this modest hero—myself. The book says:
“Corporal T. E. Graham”—
I lost my stripes shortly afterwards—
“was then actually on His Majesty’s Service in that he was attending under instruction a field firing exercise and sustained the following injury on May 4th 1944”.
As noble Lords know, that was one month before D Day. The injuries were:
“Gun shot wounds lower abdomen wall with prolapse of small intestine … Gun shot wounds left thigh, entrance and exit wounds with some destruction of the muscle. A severe injury”.
That happened to me, an ordinary lad. I was a loyalist and very much involved in 1940 and 1941 in the knowledge that my nation, my family and my heritage were at risk. I like to think that people who volunteer for the Territorial Army are imbued every bit as much by not only excitement, but also a sense that they are taking part in a great adventure, which can be deadly serious.
What happened to me was not categorised then, but now it is called friendly fire. Friendly fire, when illustrations are given, illustrate that things can go wrong and accidents can happen, but nevertheless the men and women are real and they are our neighbours, loved ones and friends. I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will take back to their Ministry and their vital work the knowledge that this House is unanimous in supporting not only the Armed Forces but the Territorial Army. We are not all given the opportunity to do practical, positive things. The Minister and her colleagues are. We can say to them that we are behind them and what they are doing. When I look at the speakers’ list, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, is to follow me: a great name in the history of this country but known especially to people of my age.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has his name down to speak. I never knew his father well or his grandfather. I met his grandfather, who has deep respect. This side of the House and the Government’s supporters are as one with Members all around the House who have given us the benefit of their experience in saying to the Minister, “You have a big job on. You have a nation which depends on our Armed Forces and on the Territorial Army, and we wish you well”.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Freeman on introducing this timely debate. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, whose speech was extremely impressive and who represented so well the service and duty to our nation and Armed Forces of which he is a great example. I hesitate to speak on defence matters in front of many noble Lords who have made a much greater contribution than I have to the Armed Forces of the Crown, especially the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley.
I should declare my interest as Honorary Air Commodore No. 600 City of London Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Airforce. Like my membership of your Lordships’ House, this appointment owes everything to heredity and nothing to merit. Prior to this my only military service comprised eight years in the 4th Battalion Royal Green Jackets, now 7th Battalion The Rifles. I had been a member of both the combined cadet force and the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps, which used to have a nice mess at Quayside.
I should like to salute the TA on its 100th birthday. We must remember that eight reservists have made the supreme sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 and many more have been wounded or disabled, changing their lives seriously and dramatically reducing their quality of life.
When I served in the Territorial Army, its strength was around 80,000, but following Options for Change and the Strategic Defence Review its establishment has been reduced to 42,000 and its actual strength is somewhat less. Those reductions in strength were concentrated on the infantry and yeomanry units, which significantly reduced the TA’s geographic footprint. As the TA acts as a shop window for the regular Armed Forces, this reduction has also had a negative effect on the recruitment levels of regular units. However, since then the Government’s cuts in the size of the Regular Forces and reduction in the proportion of GDP spent on defence has changed the TA, the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Auxiliary Airforce from being reserve force of last resort, which is how I felt we were regarded, to reserve of first choice.
The obligation on individuals and units to expect to be deployed overseas has increased massively and continues to grow. It is excellent that there is more joint training between the various arms of the reserves. Just last weekend I visited my squadron, whose personnel were on exercise together with the Royal Marines Reserve at Longmoor in Hampshire. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force is under pressure to change the expectations of its people from being likely to be deployed overseas from once every five years to once every three years. As other noble Lords have said, some 17,000 reservists have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past five years, the equivalent of 21 battalions. It is no exaggeration to say that these operations could not have been undertaken and maintained without our Reserve Forces. However, there has not been a commensurate increase in awareness of these forces and the essential role they play among the public. Many employers are regrettably not yet willing to provide two weeks’ extra paid leave to reservists and, more understandably, are reluctant to see key personnel called up for deployment one year in three or even one year in five. Here I echo the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and support his question to the Minister: will the Government offer tax incentives or some other form of assistance to companies that employ members of the Reserve Forces? My noble friend Lord Glenarthur covered the point well in his informative speech.
I also think that the Government should end the insult to the Armed Forces of a double-hatted Secretary of State for Defence and for Scotland. Notwithstanding the fact that I consider it unacceptable to have a part-time Secretary of State, I congratulate the present Secretary of State on setting up a review into the role of the Reserve Forces and on his wisdom in appointing General Nick Cottam to lead it. It is essential that the capabilities required of the Reserve Forces must match a corresponding need in the Regular Forces. It would be wasteful if the reserves provided something that is not needed. The demands placed on the reserves must be both worthwhile and realistic, otherwise they will not be able to attract and retain people of the right sort and quality.
Not enough use is made of the special role played by the Reserve Forces in providing a link between the Regular Forces and the community. Now that the ban on wearing uniforms in public has been lifted, people will again become more accustomed to seeing uniformed personnel in their midst. This will enable the Reserve Forces to raise their profile in the community. The other day I was honoured to be invited to Royal Air Force Halton as the reviewing officer for the pass out parade. I went by train, and it was necessary to wear uniform. When I went to purchase my ticket in Marylebone Station, I tried not to wear my hat, but unfortunately the counter in the ticket office was not wide enough for me to put it down. The ticket clerk looked at me and said, “Excuse me, sir, do you mind telling me what your profession is?”. Just to confuse him I said, “Actually, I am a banker”. The wearing of uniform in public should help both the regulars and the reserves to improve their ability to recruit more and better people.
Additionally, I hope that the review will look at restoring the geographic footprint and increasing the ratio of our Reserve Forces, which provide only a quarter of our total Armed Forces. In the United States, reserves account for more than 50 per cent of total forces, while in Canada and Australia they make up more than 40 per cent.
One of the principal reasons why the UK is still seen as a global power, punching above its weight in international forums and retaining many and varied interests all over the world, is that, other than the United States and perhaps France, we are the only country that is recognised as being capable of mounting military initiatives far away from our shores. The Government’s shabby treatment of our Armed Forces has placed at risk this capability, a loss which would have negative effects on the standing of the UK far beyond the sphere of defence and military capability per se.
The restoration of the Reserve Forces to a higher percentage of our total forces would not only aid recruitment but enable some easing of the overstretch from which the Reserve Forces now suffer. This would mitigate the current retention problem. As my noble friend Lord Freeman said, the reserves provide excellent value for money. The country needs their contribution more than ever. The value of their loyalty, commitment, patriotism and sense of duty cannot be underestimated. We owe it to them and to their families to provide much better care and support after deployment.
As chairman of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund—yet another obviously hereditary appointment—I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth mention our support for the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and in other ways for personnel returning from deployment. However, the charities can do only so much. Does the Minister agree that the Government should give more support? Like other noble Lords, I much look forward to the report of General Cottam’s review.
Again, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Freeman on introducing the debate today, and I wish the Territorial Army a very happy birthday.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Freeman for introducing the debate. I remind the House that I am still a serving officer in the Territorial Army, although I do not train very much nowadays.
I read the excellent book of the noble Lord, Lord Graham. In my favourite passage, one very senior lord was extolling the virtues of the Battle of the Somme, whereupon the other lord said, “Ah, yes, but you weren’t at Passchendaele”.
I have heard nothing this afternoon that I would disagree with. Clearly the driver of the debate is the TA’s 100th anniversary; as my noble friend and others have explained, the TA was formed 100 years ago. I am frightened and honoured to say that I have served in the TA for a third of that period; my recordable service date is January 1974. Many noble Lords have talked about the Cottam review and, subject to the funding caveat, I think that all noble Lords broadly welcome it. However, the problems of the Reserve Forces pale into insignificance when compared with those of the Regular Armed Forces. Under UK defence planning assumptions, our Armed Forces are configured and resourced to undertake one enduring medium-scale—in other words, brigade-size—operation, and possibly one small-scale possibly enduring operation. What we are actually doing is double medium-scale plus; two brigades are deployed, but both operations are very difficult.
We cannot go on like this. If we do, we will eventually hit the buffers. We must either increase resources or cut commitments. Is the Cottam review predicated on the extant defence planning assumptions; on the reality since 2003, which is double what the defence planning assumptions provided for; or on some future defence planning assumptions? I am extremely concerned about the number of direct-entry junior officers commissioned into the TA as opposed to the UOTC. For some time last year, the Minister experienced some difficulty separating the group A commissions from the Group B commissions in answer to my Written Questions. The point is that only Group A commissioned officers are liable to be called up. Fortunately, we managed to resolve the issue through an Oral Question on 17 December last year. For each of the years 2003 to 2007, the numbers commissioned into the Group A TA were 95, 87, 39, 49 and 59. Since the strength of the TA is 30,000, that means that we are commissioning two direct-entry junior officers for every 1,000 members of the TA. Clearly, that is not enough; perhaps the Minister has some up-to-date figures. We have a serious problem.
It is not necessarily the MoD’s fault. There are changes in society generally and, in particular, modern work patterns make it difficult for officer-calibre people to join the TA. As a result, the TA is commissioning more senior NCOs and warrant officers. They are good-quality and good attenders, but they are not direct-entry junior officers. In any case, many units are still seriously short of officers.
The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, told us that volunteers are quite prepared to deploy on operations; of course, he is absolutely right. However, part of the problem is that officers—young men and women—are not volunteering to join, due rightly or wrongly to the current overseas military operations. Apart from the impact on the current TA, does it matter? It does, because the proportion of the UK working-age population that has ever held a commission is probably lower than at any time in the past 100 years. This matters because it adversely affects our ability to defend ourselves should we find that we have our backs to the wall—a situation where the survival of the nation was at stake. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, suggested some solutions, and we hope that the Cottam review provides the answers to this problem.
Many noble Lords have touched on Reserve Forces training. When I was last mobilised in 2003, I received a negligible amount of pre-deployment training—only a few simple military tests. I never took part in any exercise between being mobilised and demobilised. However, I never expected anything else; I knew that it was going to be a come-as-you-are party. Of course, the subsequent tranches of the TA mobilised for operations all received extensive training. Any plans for the TA must not rely on extensive pre-deployment training. When it really matters, there will not be time, possibly because of the strategic constraints of the operational plan.
My noble friend Lord Freeman and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, talked briefly about the use of the TA in post-conflict reconstruction. This role and requirement will not go away; there are plenty of candidate operations, but we just do not have the capacity. Currently, as I understand it, reservists are called up for their military qualifications and skills. This is unsurprising, as we do not have a database of volunteers’ civilian skills. I urge the Minister to ensure that General Cottam looks closely at the use of volunteers’ civilian skills as well as their military ones. It may be controversial and require a change of policy, but it must be done.
Many noble Lords have talked about civil contingencies. There are two aspects to this: first, the provision of TA officers who have a long-term liaison role with local civilian agencies; and secondly, the use of the TA for disaster relief within the UK. I am not convinced that the current plans are sensible because they appear to rely upon the use of regular troops to be deployed in the first instance. However, the Regular Army is quite clear that it has very limited capability and resources. It is not resourced to provide this capability. Certainly, by definition, it does not have the local knowledge that the TA would. A local TA unit will immediately have a system of command and control and a range of equipment already issued to them because they have to be able to survive in the field. When I was commanding my company, my estimate would be that I could get 50 people within three or four hours if I had access just to the radio, by going on it and telling them to get to the TA centre immediately. In addition, the TA personnel have knowledge of where specialist equipment—both military and civilian—can be acquired. I hope that the Cottam review will look closely at civil contingencies as well.
My honourable friend Mr Brazier in another place never misses an opportunity to raise the issue of deploying formed units and of course he is right to do so. The point at which this capability is dispensed with is will be shortly before the time when it becomes necessary to use it. As a sub-unit commander, it certainly concentrated my mind that I might have to deploy my unit on operations, and indeed we nearly had to do so for Option B Minus in Kosovo. However, if I were commanding only a training unit, I could easily become rather more relaxed about the operational capability.
I have enjoyed the debate today. We will have to wait, after listening to what the Minister has to say, to see what General Cottam comes up with in his report.
My Lords, in intervening in this debate I have become acutely aware that I am part of that generation which has not experienced any form of military training and has probably been less exposed to any form of military activity in its formative years than any other. People who are in their early 20s, however, now live at a time when our troops are committed in warfare. My generation— which may be mirrored down the Corridor—is one in which the attitudes towards the Territorial Army were such that we could easily take a pop at the part-time soldier. I remember a Billy Connolly sketch about the TA running around chasing another unit up and down the Clyde. It was a total waste of time because the only guy they caught worked in the same shipyard as they did, and Billy Connolly said, “I could have sneaked up on him at lunchtime and saved us all the bother”. That was the attitude.
Historically, if you go through the prints and the books about the militia and yeomanry in years gone by, you find people playing at soldiers—probably in certain periods with justification—with gorgeous uniforms. If you want to look at the use of gold braid as an artistic expression, the late 19th-century militia and yeomanry uniforms are a great place to start. A sportsman from a rifle shooting association once gave a historical document about how wonderful shooting was. You saw people who were competitively shooting, many from volunteer rifle associations, once again with wonderful uniforms. They were easy figures of fun.
The TA and especially the modern TA is where we move away from this because the TA was initially based on the failures of the Boer War military. If you look back you will see that we were not good shots, that we marched in old-fashioned uniforms and got drubbed on several occasions by a bunch of irregular farmers. A unit was then formed which integrated with the most professional army at the start of World War I, to tremendous kudos. We then had a force that went straight into action at the beginning of World War II. Then we went through the doldrums—which was probably my formative years—when once again the reserves started to slip towards being figures of fun. We then come into a period when we have the peace dividend and we start to reduce the numbers. The peace dividend is in about 1990; the break-up of Yugoslavia starts in 1991, as does the Gulf War. Effectively we have gone into a “Hot War” setting on a peace dividend—and we are starting to see the results now.
The noble Lord, Lord King, basically said that we do not have a peace dividend any more, if I have remembered his expression, and many noble Lords have said that we are using the TA to paper over the cracks. We do not have large units that we can pull up for emergencies. If someone storms up Brighton beach, we do not have anyone to call to throw them back. Our Armed Forces are at the limit of their operational capacity. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has pointed out exactly where we are. We cannot do anything else.
My much missed friend Lord Garden—Tim—said that some of the wars we are involved in are wars of choice. Before I focus directly on our reserves—predominantly the TA, although I recognise that there are others—I want to say that when it comes to wars of choice we must decide which ones we can take part in, and we are at the limit of that. My party’s position on involvement in Iraq is well documented. When that decision was taken was one of those moments when you are reassured by your choice of colleagues. We cannot take on any more commitments with the current structure. The idea of a reserve is effectively removed from our military thinking at the moment because we are struggling to stand still in terms of commitment—I do not think anyone is seriously going to challenge that at the moment—and it is the Army that is under most stress.
What are we going to do? If we cannot carry on as we are, how are we going to change? The important military traditions of the British Army—professionalism and long-term deployment, as my noble friend pointed out—seem to be inappropriate for what we are doing at the moment. Those in long-term service and the largely part-time volunteer force have reached the end of their deployment without further huge injections of money to have units prepared in large numbers.
We can consider a series of solutions. I have spoken to several soldiers who have said that we should look seriously at the American model. There has been a tradition of saying, “Oh no, the Americans aren’t proper professionals like we are”, with regard to counterinsurgency, when it is quite clear that the American army’s tradition of learning on its feet in certain aspects is coming to the fore. The American idea of short-term service with long terms in reserve and a National Guard, one unit of which has deployment capacity for combat, support or otherwise, is something we should address if we are to have a long-term overseas worldwide commitment. At the moment we are just not doing it.
Carrying on at this rate probably means spending more money. Whether we are prepared to do that or decide that we will not get involved in future is one of the major questions that must be addressed.
If our servicemen volunteer, they are part-timers on an incredible rotation of service. You are not a reservist if you are serving every three or five years; you are effectively a part-time soldier. With the pressure that puts on employers, it is understandable if some of the good will breaks down. Any reasonable employer may start to think, “Do I want them on my books? Do I want them promoted? Do I want them in a position of greater authority?”. Whether or not they should think like that is by the bye; the fact is that it will occur. We all know that.
Unless we are prepared to take on the question of financing and our level of commitment, none of it makes sense. Are we prepared to change the nature of our regular recruitment patterns to allow ourselves a greater number of reserves and have another supporting force, as per the American model, or do we go for something else? Do we prepare to pump more money and energy into a reserve force that has less required of it? One or two tours, yes, but three or four, no, except for people who like the idea of being a part-timer in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces—a new concept for us. Do we take that on board? Are we prepared to engage in that discussion?
As has been pointed out, we also have to address the fact that, if the TA and other Reserve Forces are taking on the role of being effectively full-time soldiers for certain periods, we must look after them in the same way in which we look after our regular servicemen. We have had the Royal British Legion’s covenant debates over the past year or so. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking now that the Government will work towards supporting the TA to the same level as the Regular Army, and that that is made very clear. To be fair to the Government, making sure that there is greater support for the armed services in public is a step forward, but making sure that there is integration and recognition of those who serve at all levels is something which must come now. We must engage and bring them together. We must try to look at this in the round.
Possibly I have made the most party-political speech in the debate, but we have heard a lot today about the problems occurring in the TA in the light of what is being asked of our Armed Forces at the moment. I hope the Minister will be able to respond in kind by telling us what is going to be practically done because there is a real problem here and the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, deserves credit for bringing it to our attention.
My Lords, I begin by recording two declarations of personal interest. One is historical, the other current. While the political credit for the legislation that brought the Territorial Army into being in 1908 is rightly assigned, as my noble friend said, to the Secretary of State for War at the time, Richard Burdon Haldane, much of the detailed preparatory work was delegated by him to my grandfather, Major General Douglas Haig, initially as Director of Military Training at the War Office and subsequently as Director of Staff Duties there. Haig was brought back from India, where he was Inspector General of Cavalry, in May 1906 especially for that purpose. His diary records the somewhat difficult negotiations he had with the commanding officers of the Yeomanry and Militia Regiments, as they were then, over their conversion into the Territorial Army. It will surprise no one who is familiar with the historic relationship between the Regular and Reserve Forces that the most salient difficulty to be resolved in 1906 and 1907 was whether the Territorial Forces should be deployed as units or whether the regulars might draw on them for drafts of reinforcements. In the event Territorial divisions were deployed to France after August 1914 and served with distinction as such in the great Army that my grandfather led.
My current interest is that I have the honour to be the Colonel of a Royal Engineer TA Regiment and I am proud that elements of that regiment have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and on peacekeeping duties elsewhere. This was recognised a couple of weeks ago by the Mayor and Council of Reigate and Banstead, who invited the regiment and the borough's Territorial unit, along with the REME unit that my noble friend Lord Attlee served in, to march through the town centre, with a reception for them and their families in the town hall afterwards. The huge crowds and their enthusiasm made it a very special occasion for the soldiers.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. These regional associations play a very important role in supporting and promoting the volunteer reserves of the three services and the cadet organisations with their respective communities. I pay tribute to them for the enormous contribution they make to our defence capability and our thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives from all the services, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said. My noble friend Lord Freeman is the hard-working president of the RFCA and I thank him for bringing forward this interesting and important debate.
As my noble friend said, we should also warmly recognise those who serve in the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the Royal Marine Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and the significant contribution that they make. I much enjoyed the description by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose of the founding of the RNVRs and his grandfather’s part in it. Through their training centres across the country and their members who straddle civilian and military society, they provide vital links between military and civilian communities. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made important points about the reserves encouraging local participation and how we have lost much of that as the numbers have declined.
Just as regular forces are now being encouraged to wear uniforms whenever appropriate, should not the TA and other reservists be encouraged likewise, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard suggested? I also recognise the indispensable part played by the sponsored reserves in providing the whole of the manpower on which our armoured forces rely in providing, right up the front line, lifting and transport under a most successful PFI contract.
I was very impressed by the number of speakers who had important interests to declare and many points and questions were raised today. My noble friend Lord Fowler pointed out the vital role that the medical reserves are playing in Iraq and Afghanistan. My noble friend Lady Park mentioned the important work done by service charities. I have seen a lot of this work and I pay tribute to them for that. The noble Baroness and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, mentioned aftercare—a subject that merits a debate on its own. My noble friend Lord Crathorne eloquently described how, with excellent aftercare, a soldier from the Yorkshire regiment TA battalion was coming to terms with losing a leg in Basra.
I much enjoyed the eloquent recollections of the Home Guard and the Royal Marines recounted by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I look forward to seeing his book.
I shall meet the noble Lord afterwards.
My noble friends Lord Freeman, Lord King, Lord Trenchard and Lord Attlee, mentioned the reserve review team. Along with other noble Lords I was fortunate to meet Major General Nick Cottam the other day who will chair the review team. I was much impressed by his energy and ideas. The team has quite a responsibility to examine, and make suggestions on, the modern role of the Reserve Forces. Like other noble Lords, I hope that pressure will not be put on it to come up with solutions that make savings.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, mentioned RAF auxiliary recruitment and its importance to the Royal Air Force. Recruitment was also mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard. The impact of ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq has placed enormous strain on the reserves’ ability to recruit and retain their service personnel. I think that my noble friend Lord King said that there are 30,000 reserves. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm this number, and say what percentage of the planned manpower strength that is, if not today perhaps in writing to noble Lords who took part in the debate. Can she inform the House what the Government are doing to address the alarming speed with which personnel are leaving the TA? How many members left in 2006 and 2007? My noble friend Lord Attlee pointed out the shortage of direct entry officers into the TA.
Given the Government’s own admission in last year’s MoD annual report that the TA constitutes an,
“integral part of defence capability”,
is the noble Baroness concerned that the retention crisis being experienced throughout the reserves will have an alarmingly detrimental impact on such a capability? Several noble Lords, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, and my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, mentioned the importance of employers. I pay tribute to them. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur for the vital role that he plays as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board.
My noble friends Lord Freeman and Lord Attlee mentioned training, as did the recent House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report and the NAO report, both of which were very concerned about training. Bearing in mind the complications of the JPA as regards claims and allowances and other complicated paperwork, is the Minister concerned that too much time that should be allocated to training is taken up by administrative matters?
As a number of speakers have said, it is vital that TA soldiers should be trained and equipped for operations in the same way as their regular counterparts. My noble friend Lord Trenchard and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, mentioned university OTCs. Does the noble Baroness think it right that those serving in OTCs are included in statistics outlining the relative strength of the TA, given that they are unavailable for deployment?
My noble friends Lord King, Lady Park and Lord Glenarthur, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned a period between active deployments. It is government policy to ensure that reserve personnel are deployed once every five years at most. However, it is well known that many TA units have been deployed many more times than this. Can the noble Baroness inform the House whether this is the exception, or has it now become the rule? The TA, as others have said, is arguably under greater pressure from operational deployments than at any other time since its creation, certainly outside the two world wars. At the same time, it is smaller than at any time in its history.
Finally, can I touch on the airbridge? I had assumed the situation was getting better from Written Answers to Questions that I and other noble Lords had tabled. When I met a number of TA soldiers the other day, they told me that the situation is still pretty dire. There are a number of delays. In particular, soldiers have been delayed for a long time coming home on leave. Could the noble Baroness touch on the airbridge?
My Lords, before I respond to the very wide-ranging and genuinely interesting debate, I am sure your Lordships will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of the British soldier who was killed on operations in Afghanistan on Monday. Tragic events like that bring into sharp focus the bravery about which so many colleagues in the House have spoken today. It is something we should always be conscious of.
I welcome this opportunity to debate the Reserve Forces and to celebrate TA 100. I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, on securing the debate. It is clear to me from all the contributions that I have heard that this debate has been not only timely, but very worthwhile. Everyone without exception has emphasised the high regard in which the Reserve Forces are held. That is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly support and associate the Government with. It is also been clear that many of the contributions are made with a great deal of authority that comes from direct experience. That has been valuable and I pay tribute to the many noble Lords on all sides of the House who have rendered that service to the Crown as members of the Reserve Forces.
I hesitate to take issue early on with the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, but it has been only two years since we held a full debate on the reserves. At that time it was initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who had not long returned from a tour in Iraq as a mobilised reservist. Quite a lot has changed, even in that time, as the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, has said. The ever-increasing integration of the reserves into the regular force has gone on at quite a pace.
Whenever we debate military affairs, we always pay tribute to personnel from all three Services for the work they are doing, often in very difficult conditions, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment. We are all immensely proud of them and of all that they have achieved. We cannot overlook the fact that, in our current and recent successes and our plans for the future, we are often heavily reliant on the volunteers in the Reserve Forces, without whom things might have been very different indeed. That point has been made by many of your Lordships this afternoon and it is one with which I must concur.
The use of reservists to support UK operations is fully in line with the Government’s policy and approach. The reserves are appropriately trained, and are an integrated part of our Armed Forces. They are expected to deploy to augment their regular colleagues. At the moment, nearly 6.5 per cent of the Army’s total deployed personnel on current major operations—that is, in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan—are from the Army’s reserves. We should also remember that, like all regular members of the Armed Forces, behind every reservist on operation is a family and people who are worried and for whom we have a responsibility, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hoyle and emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park. We ought to acknowledge that those families bear such a burden and that their support is utterly essential to everyone in the Reserve Forces.
Time prevents me talking too much about the history of our reservists, although in reading for the debate I learnt a lot. Others have given us a great deal of history. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, reminded us of the history of the naval reserves. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, reminded us of the contribution of air reservists. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, gave a good, brief history of the TA. We also heard some interesting personal histories. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, contributed his, as did my noble friend Lord Clarke and others. Of course, my noble friend Lord Graham gave a highly personalised account of his life in the Armed Forces. I served with my noble friend in the Government Whips’ Office in the other place some time ago where there may have been some similarities—but we will put that record aside for the moment.
My noble friend Lord Hoyle reminded me of something that is pertinent to my background and childhood. He reminded the House that the Bolton Wanderers football team volunteered en masse. I grew up in Bolton some time later, and I was aware that the town was very proud of the fact that its football team had led in such a way. It meant a great deal to Bolton. If my noble friend Lord Graham can plug a book, perhaps I may mention Wartime Wanderers, which gives an account of that experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that he had no military training, being from a generation that did not have national service. Like him, my peer group did not have to serve in the Armed Forces. That is an important factor in the public’s understanding of our Armed Forces. The parliamentary group looking at reservists can perhaps do more to inform people, but it should be a two-way relationship because local TAs should help by informing and involving their Members of Parliament.
As regards current deployments, things have changed a great deal. It is two years since the previous debate, and regular forces are now thoroughly used to working alongside reservists at almost every level, with a wide variety of trades and cap badges. From the time of previous campaigns—be it the first Gulf War, the Balkans or current developments in Iraq and Afghanistan—reservists of all three services are much more used to a culture where mobilised service is, if not the norm, at least quite commonplace and expected. I am sure noble Lords agree that when visiting units on operations it is impossible to tell who is a reservist and who is a regular. That is a great tribute not only to the quality of the volunteers and their training and enthusiasm, but to the fact that they are working together and are received by the regulars and treated as part of the team.
I was asked about numbers: 17,000 reservists have been mobilised in the past 10 years. Some of that operational deployment has been very costly and there have been deaths. Sadly, some brave men and women of the Reserve Forces have made the ultimate sacrifice and we should all pay tribute to the 12 reservists who have been killed on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude and we must not forget the sacrifices that their families, too, have made.
Deployment has been a feature of this debate and mention was made, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, of the recent announcement about the deployment in Cyprus. The Government remain committed to supporting peacekeeping duties in Cyprus and we announced recently that a new call-out order had been made under Section 56 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable members of the Reserve Forces to continue to be called out into permanent service and deployed to Cyprus. Currently there are 35 reservists deployed there. We are planning a deployment of more than 250 reservists in October. The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, welcomed that. The TA soldiers will fulfil all the normal military duties required of UN troops in Cyprus. Some units that are being deployed are very pleased to have the opportunity to go on operations. On some occasions not all units are able to volunteer, because it is not appropriate. The call-out has been broadly welcomed and, by utilising our reserves in this way, we are freeing up regulars to be deployed in other operations.
The review has rightly been the focus of many contributions this afternoon. It was announced in March this year. It has the full support of service chiefs and of reservists. I am pleased by the welcome for the reserves review team leader, Major General Nick Cottam. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said that it was a wise choice and the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said that he was impressed by the early contributions that had been made to the discussion. I have discussed this review and I, too, am very impressed. I want to allay the fear that the review team will not be wide enough. There was one mention of the fact that perhaps there should be more civilians. There are civilians who are working with, and as part of, this team. The openness and transparency that the team wish to deploy will mean that everyone who wants to will be able to contribute. There is a website and people will be able to follow what is going on.
The review is examining how our Reserve Forces should most effectively be configured, structured, equipped, located and trained, not just for current operations, but for future defence needs. We think that our present approach is sound, but, given the changes that have taken place, it is a good idea to take stock, step back and look at the potential use of reservists in future. The planning assumptions that will be taken are the existing ones; there is no change there. We need to consider issues such as the scope for greater integration into Regular Forces and how we can better capitalise on the vast range of civilian skills—a topic raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. We have found widespread support for this review among the services as a whole. It is important that this review is being conducted with the reserves; it is not something that is being done to the reserves.
Perhaps I may say a word about funding. This is not a cost-driven exercise, and I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, accepted and acknowledged that at the beginning of his speech. I can understand people asking that question, but I assure the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and others, that the review is policy-led, not resource-driven. We want to make sure that we get the best out of our reserves, and that is very important.
The review will consider a range of matters. I remind the House that we will soon have a Command Paper, which will deal with some of the important issues that were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, such as mental health, where awareness has increased dramatically. Because we are now more aware, we are obliged to take more action. There have been some interesting pilot studies, and there are attempts to get people in the National Health Service to be more aware of the rights that we are giving to members of our Armed Forces, but there is clearly some way to go. We will definitely look at any ideas that come back. The review is off to a good start. It has a great deal of support, and it will be open and willing to listen to the ideas that have been put forward today.
The Reserve Forces and Cadets Association was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, because of his role. I pay credit to him for the work that he has done. It has an important role, and it provides support for volunteers. As has been mentioned today, it is able to make that important connection with local communities. We value that, and everyone should appreciate that.
We have already seen Major General Cottam talking to the Council of Reserve Forces and Cadets Association. It has been involved in the review already because of its close supporting role to the reservists. I hope it is correct that the national council is looking at the review as an opportunity to explain and to educate people about the role that it carries out. It may be of interest to the House to know that the review is using the network that exists for workshops and for making sure that people who are most directly involved know what is going on with the review and can find out. That is not an exclusive route into the review, but it is an important one, which should be recognised and utilised. I hope that all those involved will have the confidence to think that it is going in the right direction.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned a point that he has talked to me about and brought up on the Floor of the House: the problem of recruiting direct entry junior officers. The figures are very much the same as they were when we last talked about this, and the noble Earl quoted them today. We acknowledge that there is a problem, but it is not simply, as I am sure he agrees, about numbers and getting people interested. It is about whether we can offer proper leadership and management opportunities so that people will want to go down that route. I have discussed that concern with Major General Cottam, and I spoke to him about the interest of the noble Earl in that. He told me that he understood and that he was “on the case”. It is an area of the review that will get particular attention, but it is a problem, given the changes in society and work patterns.
Mention has also been made of employers. We all recognise that employers have done a great deal to contribute to our efforts by releasing people at critical times. The board chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has been very helpful in that. I am pleased that he said that he has ready access to those who he needs to talk to about this. I was pleased that the report last week from Quentin Davies acknowledges the role of that body, which is important.
On the question of whether we should do more to reward employers, we compensate them by up to £12 million. One or two Members mentioned the problems of members of the Reserve Forces getting back into work. Particular mention was made of the BMA’s view regarding medical personnel getting back into the National Health Service after being deployed. When I was in Afghanistan recently—and I am sure that I am not the only person who has been told this—the medical staff there said that a three-month deployment there had given them the experience of many months, if not years, in a busy accident and emergency unit. It actually enhanced their experience. I think and I hope that employers will bear that in mind, because people can become more mature and they can obtain more leadership qualities and practical experience from a deployment. That can be of benefit.
A number of noble Lords asked whether we unduly rely on reserves to support operations. Our policy is clear. A primary role of the Reserve Forces is to augment the Regular Forces on enduring operations. There was a peak of reserve force usage during the early stages of our operations in Iraq, as would be expected. Since then the level of mobilisation has reduced and stabilised. The Reserve Forces have actually enhanced their reputation through the quality of their contributions and I do not think that we are placing excessive demands on them. More importantly, they do not think that we are placing excessive demands on them.
I would like to have spoken about cadets and taken up the points made by my noble friend Lord Clarke and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, about citizenship and other contributions, but there is no time to go fully down that route today.
In conclusion, we have had an extremely good, useful and thought-provoking debate. If there are any significant issues that I have not mentioned, I will of course write to noble Lords, but it is important that we place on record our appreciation of the work of the reserves and all of those who support them. My noble friend Lord Hoyle said that C(64) squadron had been given the freedom of the town when they returned from operations. Actions of that kind are proper recognition of the work that our reservists undertake. All the points raised in this debate will be taken on board in this review and, again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, for securing this very timely debate.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken the trouble to participate in this debate. In particular, I thank the Minister for her thoughtful and comprehensive response. That was much appreciated by your Lordships. This has been a fascinating debate with its wealth of experience. Personal, family, community, ministerial and health service issues have been brought to bear. The debate has demonstrated that your Lordships will, I am sure, join me in saying to members and families of Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces, “We salute you”.
I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.